Q. I recall learning that the St. Michael the Archangel prayer is a prayer of minor exorcism that casts out the power of the evil one. Do the angels have special powers against evil spirits?
A. The St. Michael the Archangel prayer was composed by Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) after he had a vision of the future work of Satan. Leo XIII was moved to write this prayer after learning that the 20th Century would be the time that Satan would do his most horrific work. The vision, sadly, came to fruition as the 20th century was one of the bloodiest centuries in history. For years, this prayer was recited after many Masses, a practice that continues in many parishes today.
Sacred Scripture reveals that there are purely spiritual beings, that is, beings without bodies, that are called angels. While angels are different from human beings in that they do not possess bodies, they are similar because they have an intellect and a will.
As purely spiritual beings possessing intellect and will, the angels make an irrevocable choice: to serve God or to serve themselves. They can humbly submit to truth and goodness itself, or in their pride, they can reject him. Those angels who choose to reject God are referred to as demons.
The English word “angel” comes from the Greek angelos, which means ‘messenger,’ for they serve as messengers of God. Throughout the history of salvation, angels have been present in their service to God and all of creation.
It is an angel who intervenes on behalf of God, keeping the hand of Abraham from slaying his son, Isaac. In the Old Testament, angels announced births, guided the Israelites, and instructed prophets. And, of course, the angel Gabriel, announced the precursor to the savior—John the Baptist—and the savior himself. The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest” in proclamation of the birth of the God-man.
The angels protected Jesus in his infancy, and served him throughout his ministry. They continue to serve the Church today. In the Church’s liturgy, she invokes the protection and assistance of the angels. In the funeral rite, the Church asks the angels to lead the soul of the deceased into paradise.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “from its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by [the angels’] watchful care and intercession” (CCC 336). This indicates the long standing belief in the Church that each person has a personal guardian angel. St. Basil, the 4th century bishop and Doctor of the Church, alludes to this, saying, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”
While angels are purely spiritual beings, they are sometimes depicted in art as having swords and shields. This is a way for us human beings who are a body/soul composite to understand the spiritual battle that the angels fight against evil for our benefit.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.